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The Inclusive Classroom at risk in D181

Posted by admin on April 27, 2017
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From Mike McCurry’s “Talk of the Town” column in The Clarendon Courier, April 27, 2017  -Written by Amy McCurry

I strategically planned to park our car somewhere around the two-mile mark of a three-mile walk. Although involved with both “Girls on the Run” and cross country at CHMS, our daughter has a pattern of “getting stuck” in several circumstances. In this case a long walk.

If you watched or participated in last year’s Daisy Dash, you might recall watching her ditch her father (on Father’s Day) to sprint ahead and cross the finish line at the very end. Poor Mike – I think he came in dead last with only the police car trailing right behind.

~

When we’ve planned and executed a family experience, our plans that involve transitions usually don’t always work out as we’ve hoped. However, in most cases, the outcome still brings joy, and there’s always a lesson to be learned. That “teachable moment” still occurs while I am at home teaching our children, rather than in the classroom.

The love of a classroom was placed in my soul all the way back in kindergarten, when Miss Helen Weisbruch move up from kindergarten to the first grade with me. She made a foundational impact upon my view of education. Then, somewhere along the road, and due to an exposure to disability, I focused my own educational interests on special needs.

Eventually, my path lead me to teaching children with special needs at HMS and CHMS. I co-taught in all subjects and had the opportunity to model and “teach” inclusive practices to several colleagues who at the time simply didn’t “get it”. Not because they didn’t want to, they just had not yet had the opportunity to work with a special-ed teacher who valued – yes, learning, but more importantly, the love of children learning anything together. We taught content together in different ways so that all children could learn.

Low Incident (uncommon usually with more severe disabilities) children were not included in regular education. One teaching situation that continues to haunt me was when a specific student on my case-load received a majority of instruction in a small room (closet) by an instructional assistant. This was common with these kinds of learners. I knew it was wrong, but the system had not yet allowed access for some students.

This might have been a turning point of inclusion here in District 181. Even our Principal at the time, “Mr. K”, hit a personal learning curve by including children who might otherwise not have been thought to have belonged.

It was due to the efforts of open-minded teachers and the advocacy of a group of parents whose children with more severe needs were entering the scene at CHMS.

The outcome: regular education became accessible to all students.

I often reflect upon the experiences of “those families” now while raising our daughter. I promised her early on that she would never be stuck in a room isolated from other peers. At the time I truly didn’t know what it was like in “their shoes”, but for the last 12 1/2 years, I can say I do now. I now understand that all I had learned was preparing me for her life.

I knew little about raising a child with Down Syndrome, but I did know the advocacy skills I developed from teaching were going to be implemented and strengthened daily in and throughout this precious child. I knew we were called to provide her with every opportunity her siblings and friends would have; expecting the most from her and from the world; acceptance and a chance.

From the very beginning; with therapies, early childhood, Sunday school, recreation, dining out, swim lessons – we have done our best in offering her everything that all children experience. And thankfully, I had my background that would help navigate the education world.

All circumstances within a family are affected by disability, and oftentimes, the child as well as the parent feel alone.

School is that one place when your child is included; it feels normal to be there. It’s one less discrepancy. The child has an endless amount of peers, experiences and opportunities that are quite difficult to create by oneself.

We haven’t been able to organically have many “play dates”, but Abbey had typical friends who early on invited her to birthday parties, genuinely interacted in group learning, and connected with her on the playground.

Today at CHMS she sits at lunch with friends from other feeder schools, raises her hand and contributes in classes like science and language arts, has done PowerPoint presentations, participates in after-school activities, while transitioning through all subjects on any typical day. She even beats her brother to the bus that takes her to and from her home school.

To know that the small steps and big efforts all those years ago had evolved into the reality of my daughter completely included in all classes has been a dream come true.

I thank the efforts of those before us, and to the incredible teachers who believe in her abilities and potential. I’m in awe when think about the path I’ve followed to see the fruits of inclusion not only benefit our Abbey, but so many others; both with and without disability.

This community is inclusive because our schools have been.

The classrooms in my children’s schools have taught children empathy, acceptance, love and true friendship by letting the lives of those with special needs touch the “typical” child. Someone said to me yesterday, “You can’t teach this kind of kindness – it’s an experience.”

Growing close to other parents walking in shoes like mine doesn’t take long to dive deep, and share stories of significance. What I have recently learned is extremely disturbing. Disability might not have touched your life yet, but I am certain that your children have been changed by some special student they are in class with.

So, this message is important to all of you in our community.

Unfortunately, the educational placements of those “low incident” students are, once again, being threatened and altered for the 2017-18 school-year. Right before our eyes and under our noses, the inclusion program is changing direction. Not only access to the general-ed curriculum being denied, but in some circumstances children will not attend their home school to “better support their needs”, because functional skills are more important than academics. Functional skill should be taught in and through general education.

I had believed that our collective efforts on behalf of our daughter would contribute to the inclusive learning environment for those to follow. The thought that an educational placement such as hers is now being called a “mistake” is disheartening.

This was the very first year we walked The Walk for Autism. The relationships my children have formed with children in school brought us to the Community House on Sunday. I was not only walking for Autism; I was walking for a community that takes the time to support those that do, and thankful for all the Community House has provided.

As Abbey walked the route with friends and neighbors, many of her teachers throughout the years walked alongside, championing her to finish.

Thank you to every single teacher who has and will continue to make a difference in the life of all students.

~

I didn’t have time to park my car a mile away from the Community House, and as it turned out I didn’t need to.

Abigail Faith crossed the finish-line, under the blue-and-white arch of balloons with her big brother and an entire inclusive community.

Mike is a Clarendon Hills resident; husband; Indian Princess; Indian Guide Dad;  a Coach; an “old” football player and a real estate broker.  Mike’s columns are usually crafted about the buzz in and around the area.  It sometimes has a spin on real estate or cultural information, highlight a new business or announce school happenings.  He might include a “get-to-know” about some of our interesting residents and even a little about history. Whatever it is, it is sure to be about the “Talk of the Town”.

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